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Jumping Off The Stratosphere

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: Sep 08, 2021

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After graduating college in 2011, I headed off to the WSOP with my dad. I had convinced him to buy some of my action, which he was happy to do as I had already proven myself to be a good bet. (I was just lacking the bankroll management.)

While we were discussing the details of our backing arrangement around the kitchen table, an off-hand prop bet came up that he soon came to regret. For no real reason at all, he said that if either of us made a final table at the WSOP, then the other one would have to jump off the Stratosphere (the bungee-jumping-esk ride, that is)
I snap accepted this proposition! I have always been an adrenaline junky with sky diving, bull riding, and other activities. But him? Well, let’s just say he may have walked over a tall bridge once upon a time. It was a lose-lose bet for him since if he reached a final table, I’d happily jump. But if the roles were reversed, he’d either be jumping or paying up to buy his way out.

Neither of us took it too seriously at the time, of course. After all, this was the WSOP and neither of us was really going to make it all the way down to the final nine, right?

We shared a room at the Rio and my night was spent listening to non-stop snoring as he tossed and turned. (Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about contracting Legionnaires disease then. That was reserved for later in our poker careers.)

With a woefully small amount of quality sleep in me, I plopped down $1,500 for the pot-limit Omaha event. My heart was pounding so loud that I KNEW everyone else at the table could tell I was a WSOP rookie. It was the single largest event I had ever played, my first WSOP event ever, and every one of these sharks was licking their chops… or so I thought.

That year, in 2011, we were granted our entry chips alongside two rebuy bullets which we could use at any time. I wanted to maximize my knowledge of the game but still give myself the opportunity to not bust in one fell swoop, and agonized for a while on how many chips to start with – 1,500, 3,000, or 4,500. I eventually settled on 3,000 with one re-entry chip left in reserve. All that time spent debating was for naught as I made it to the end of the re-buy phase of the tournament where our tokens were automatically redeemed for chips and I already had a considerable stack to work with.

After we bagged up the chips the first night, I was feeling invincible just for making it that far. Throughout the day I had run the gambit on spotting the professional players that you saw on TV. (One notable who I am still happy to have played with before his passing was David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott. He was barely understandable half of the day but kept the entire table rolling in laughter whenever we could make out what he was saying.)

Cashing in my first ever event had me riding high. I had turned my 4,500 chips into a respectable 60,500, and it was time to see if I could close it out.

The next day was a blur of raising, folding, calling, ducking, dodging, and weaving. No one knew who I was (at 21, I barely knew who I was), and it showed in the first couple of hands that they reported online. Michael Binger doubled up in a hand I was involved in, and another player hit a one outer to double through me. While they got their names in the updates, I was just listed as ‘the other guy’ in both write ups.

I joked with the reporters afterward, and said if I won the tournament that would have to be my nickname from then on. Sadly, I didn’t win the bracelet that time, but the bright side is that the nickname didn’t stick. It was the first and last time I was referred to as, Nathan ‘The Other Guy’ Gamble.

Before too much longer my dad had a real sweat on our prop bet, literally! He was on the sidelines with his face twisted in consternation, and it was hard to tell if it was out of nerves or fear. We were down to the final two tables, and on one hand he really wanted me to do well, win a bunch of money for the two of us, and live out my childhood dreams of winning a bracelet. But on the other hand, he knew that if I made the final table, he would have to face his fears.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be as I got the bulk of my stack in on the flop against Ben Palmer when I was a 75% favorite. My dad half cheered, half jeered after I busted. I was left wanting. It was my first event, my first showing, and I had almost gone the distance. I wanted to know what it felt like to sit at the final table, to have the bright lights surrounding me, and to lift the bracelet off the table and smile ear to ear.

But those dreams weren’t reached that day. I got to experience that high six years later, with the thought of my near-miss keeping me hungry with every passing tournament until it was my time. I not only wanted, but needed to get back there (even if my dad didn’t have to jump off a building afterwards.)

Poker isn’t a game where you deserve anything, and it doesn’t favor you just because you’re a nice guy. Poker rewards those who have put in the time and energy required to conquer it, and even then, not always. If you want to give yourself the best chance at chasing down the victory, of hoisting the bracelet overhead, then you have to want it. You have to breathe it. You have to think about it, to study it, and to be constantly hungry for it. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play poker from his father. He is a two-time World Series of Poker Bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 pot limit Omaha eight-or-better event, and the second in the 2020 WSOP Online $600 PLO eight-or-better event. Gamble is a fixture of the mid-stakes mixed game community, and can often be found playing $80-$160 mix games at the Wynn. He is active on Twitter @Surfbum4life and is an ambassador for Dealio Webcam Poker. You can listen to his story on the Poker Stories Podcast.